Saturday, April 10, 2010

Clear Channel's Hard Choices

With apologies to Puretone, I ask you the following question:  Is 105-7 The Groove...well...stuck in the groove?  The market's newest station is about 6 months old and shows little sign of crawling, let alone walking.

The Groove of course is only part of Clear Channel's problem in the Atlanta market.  Total shares by owner in the February PPM ratings were Cox-25.9%, Radio One-14%, CBS-12.4% and Clear Channel-11.9%.  The company's highest-rated station, El Patron (WBZY-FM), came in at an awe-inspiring #15.  We could devote another column to why Clear Channel's two blue-chip facilities, WKLS and WUBL, are not pulling their weight.

A lot of us here in Atlanta have a serious CHR jones, myself included.  So it's understandable that The Groove's evolution to more current material has gotten our attention and lifted our spirits.  In truth, the station has moved from Rhythmic AC closer to Rhythmic CHR.  But Rhythmic is still the operative term; The Groove is nowhere near real CHR.  Of The Groove's top-20 songs, only Sexy Chick by David Guetta and I Gotta Feeling by the Black-Eyed Peas are currently played by straight-ahead CHR stations.  The Groove's most-played songs probably can be classified as Rhythmic CHR recurrents.  And The Groove is still the place to hear Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert on steroids.

What does The Groove do now to get out of its funk?  A better question is whether anything could be done that would help.  I wish I knew the answer, but one thing I do know is what the station is doing now is not working.

The 105.7 frequency's former occupant was Viva, a Central-American Latino station that at one time got substantial ratings.  When Clear Channel added a second Hispanic outlet, El Patron on 105.3, Viva's ratings predictably fell since El Patron's Regional Mexican programming more closely mirrored Atlanta's Hispanic population, which was about 70% Mexican.  The situation reflected two more in a series of boneheaded moves by Clear Channel, putting the wrong Latino format on its first station and then cannibalizing the station's audience by adding a second Hispanic station.

When Clear Channel realized it was years ahead of its time, that the market did not have room for two Hispanic stations, especially one programmed to Latin Americans, it blew up Viva.   That of course was the right decision.  It opened up 105.7 for Clear Channel's Rhythmic AC format.  I'm wondering, however, whether one more decision should have been made.  On paper, the answer is no.

The coverage maps indicate that 105.7's 60 dbu (primary) signal covers Atlanta down to around the Airport as well as big swaths of land to the north and west.  It seems perfectly suited to The Groove's target audience, which tends to live to the north.  On the contrary, the 105.3 circle penetrates a huge area to the south and west of Atlanta but barely makes it to Sandy Springs to the north.

Sports teams are often good on paper also but still lose.  One thing about FM coverage maps can be misleading.  Non-directional FM stations are permitted to optimize in desired directions without becoming directional, and optimization can make a big difference.  For one thing, an antenna can be mounted on any side of a tower.  Yet coverage maps of non-directional FM's are always circles.  With The Groove's audience tending to be in the market's northern areas, it's quite possible that 105.7's signal is truly omnidirectional.  On the other hand, I would bet that a company with the technical savvy of Clear Channel has maximized 105.3's signal toward the northeast, where the population resides. 

The empirical evidence is what I hang my hat on, and I can tell you that The Groove at 105-7 has big signal problems.  Here in DeKalb County, The Groove is touch and go, and it's not much better going through town on the Connector.  In fact, I have concluded that 105.7, which was a truly suburban signal before moving to Sweat Mountain, will work as a metro station for only two purposes.  One is as a Hispanic station; it delivers the Latino hotbed of Gwinnett County and the high-density Hispanic areas west of town with a solid sound.  I believe El Patron could move to 105.7 and hardly miss a beat.  The second is as a WGST simulcast, which would be a problem.  An FM would be tied up with a schedule stripped of local programming, and Clear Channel would lose a profit center.

The 105.3 signal, while not one of the 100,000-watt boomers, is still mighty powerful with 61,000 watts at 1,204 feet.  It's much more stable and stronger, and has more punch than 105.7 at least as far north as Sandy Springs.  If 105.3 has a slight disadvantage in the northern environs, which likely have a higher incidence of The Groove's target, it more than makes up for it over the rest of the market.  In other words, it covers Atlanta like an Atlanta station and is competitive with the other choices on the dial.

Were The Groove and El Patron to exchange frequencies, would The Groove gain any traction?  I don't know the answer.  But if Clear Channel is determined to give The Groove a chance to work, a swap would make sense.  It would have made even more sense when The Groove launched, and Clear Channel should have thought this out a little more carefully.

Frequency switches can be confusing to listeners.  Nevertheless, the risk in this case seems minimal.  Hispanic listeners would seek out El Patron and find it quickly.  And given The Groove's specialized nature, its devotees would quickly bounce over to 105.3.  Frankly, the swap would be the only way to resuscitate the patient.

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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog:

1 comment:

  1. Clear Channel should just move WGST to the more powerful of the 105 frequencies. Sell off 640 frequency as its useless to them. Clear Channel has successful FM talk stations around the country in cities such as Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Minneapolis.

    It worked before and it will work again.